I hate anecdotal evidence. It’s my single greatest annoyance. This goes for those who cherry-pick comments, magnify innocuous incidents, quote out of context, or pretend a single statement made on the campaign trail really amounts to anything more. It drives me bonkers.
I recognize that electoral politics exists on a squirming coil of sound-bite substantiation. But this most recent flap over Romney’s Anglophilia really exhausted my patience. (For the record, he’s got nothing on my father who was birthed in tweed, and hoisted me across the pond so often as child that I could navigate the streets of London better than Philadelphia, the city of my birth. If you’re reading this, Dad, it was always a pleasure.)
For those of you who missed it, the story goes something like this (and with a tip of the hat to Charles M. Blow at the New York Times):
A couple days back, a reporter from the Daily Telegraph cited an anonymous adviser from Romney’s foreign policy staff who said the following:
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Mitt Romney] feels that the special relationship is special. The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.”
Cue shock and indignation, right? The paper suggested the comments might prompt accusations of racial insensitivity. But before we leap to conclusions about the political leanings of this particular broadsheet, remember that the Telegraph is Britain’s flagship conservative daily.
Well, this is nonsense. Or bollocks, as the case may be. I won’t waste your time dignifying the ridiculous stretch between an unnamed adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity, and the linguistic contortion necessary to stretch this into a vague cultural smear on the president. But Romney’s visit suggests that he appreciates this most “special relationship.” Better than Obama? Well, it’s too soon to say, and it would be irresponsible to sum up our nations’ trans-Atlantic connection based on a bust of Churchill. But he’s off to a better start than he’s getting credit for, at the moment.
Over at the American Conservative, Daniel Larison asks, “Who cares?” He hints that a “national security and interest filter” sieves better decisions than a “values continuum” (with thanks to Aaron David Miller for providing the copy). Usually, I’d agree. On those terms alone, the relationship between Great Britain and the United States exceeds values.
However, ideas matter. Concepts matter. History matters. In the discipline of International Relations, there is a school of thought known as constructivism. Without launching into the nitty-gritty of Habermasian communicative action theorists and Foucauldian geneaologists, I’ll sum up the constructivists as follows: scholars in this camp argue that foreign affairs are bounded historically and socially. Ideas and language matter. All institutions are social constructions. As such, a state’s international posture is shaped by its social, cultural and historical identity.
So we can make jokes about Romney sticking to his guns on the “No Apology” diplomacy tour, or tease Obama for begging forgiveness for the Revolutionary War on his next visit to Buckingham Palace. Better yet, we can recognize and admit what the Romney campaign has. Namely, Anglophilia matters when it comes to our relationship with Great Britain. To paraphrase Alexander Wendt, grand Poo-Bah (an allusion to Gilbert and Sullivan seemed apt) of modern constructivism — the structure of human association is formed by shared ideas. Not material forces. In this case, he’s right.
And Larison’s correct to question “why should it matter who has the stronger personal or emotional attachment to another country?” But it’s important to remember that there’s a “construction” to our relationship that binds our identities and interests. The relationship between Britain and America transcends that “national security filter.” And kudos to the Romney camp for having the stones to admit it.